Konrad OldMoney on breaking into the world of video game music

Crafting the music for everything from the biggest EA Sports titles to the Justin Bieber documentary, Konrad OldMoney has done it all.

The award-winning composer is also deeply embedded in the world of popular music, working alongside the likes of Skrillex and Future and also producing his own lo-fi hip hop music under the alias ‘Single Friend.’ How does one build up such an expansive breadth of skills and clients? How does he adjust his approach when working on something like video game music as opposed to commercial music? Konrad OldMoney recently sat down with us to share his perspective on these questions and more – read on for highlights.

Breaking into the world of video games

How did you first break into the world of scoring for video games?

I first got a chance to work on SSX: Deadly Descents, which is a snowboarding game. This opportunity was extended to me by the music director for the game, Ricardo Almeida, and the game’s producer, Freddy Ouano.

We met through a mutual friend over lunch, and there was no intent to work together or anything like that from the jump. They heard that I produced dancehall and Afropop as well as hip hop and became curious, as they are voracious consumers of all genres of music. So, I invited them to my tiny, fake wood-paneled basement suite to listen to my beats. They were like, “How the hell is this random kid in Vancouver making these dancehall and hip hop beats on these horrible little speakers?” I was producing out of my basement bedroom at the time, and it must have been absolutely hilarious for these guys to sit down in front of those things and listen with a straight face.

They are very forward-thinking gentlemen, and they saw an opportunity to do something with me because I was adept at creating various genres of music. SSX: Deadly Descents was quite dubstep and drum & bass-heavy at the time so I was recruited to add some hip hop sauce to the project. I also just straight lied that I knew how to make dubstep, so I had to spend a week learning how to make all of the wubs. It all worked out!

Ultimately, the game and the soundtrack were a huge success! This was in the early 2000s. My first project happened because I seized an opportunity. When my friend told me he was going to EA’s offices to meet with some friends for lunch, I was like, “I’m rollin with!” – and the rest was history.

How to build your network of clients

From your start with SSX: Deadly Descents, how did you build and expand your network of clients and projects over time?

I focused on client retention as much as client onboarding. If you did a good job and were respectful of guidelines, critique, and timelines, you will stand a much better chance of repeat business. I created a website for myself that highlights my various works in one easy-to-navigate place. Social media has kind of fragmented things these days, so this was my attempt at taking back some control and making it simple for potential clients to quickly get a feel for my work, and existing clients to be able to keep up to what I have been doing.

I would suggest doing research online as to who plays what roles in which companies before introducing yourself. Don’t just email random people and be like, “Oh hi there! I am so-and-so and I have nothing else to say!” Actually look into what the production house has been working on, and if you really want a job, send some creative demos that you think they might be into. Most of the time you will get a polite rejection, but that one time can change absolutely everything – so the effort is worth it. You have to get really good at rejection. We are talking Milhouse Van Houten-level of rejection here.

Developing an intimate understanding of the world of video games

What are the creative challenges and opportunities that are unique to creating music for video games?

There are many. One of the biggest ones in my opinion is flexibility. There are many situations where in the very last minute, everything changes. Sometimes, after weeks or months of work, things can get rewritten completely! That being said, you have to be excited to prove yourself in these situations, be confident, and get the job done no matter what. Some of my most cherished memories from projects are those intense phone calls where the client has some tough news, and sometimes they’re kind of nervous to even bring it up. This is my opportunity to be the person to say, “Hey, don’t sweat it, we will get it done!” Things change, and they change often. You have to be mentally prepared for that. There are also many rounds of notes and iterations on submitted work, and this can get exhausting at times. You can’t get discouraged.

Lots of creatives tend to let their egos get in the way of a project. Make sure to be respectful of the fact that even though most of the clients aren’t musicians and might not even have any of the lingo down, they have a vision, and your job as the producer and composer is to bring their vision to life. It is not your job to get on a project and tell people what to do and argue about their creative decisions. Unfortunately, this happens often with creative people. Make sure to stay focused on the goal, and get good at working with large teams and multiple rounds of feedback.

Beyond SSX, from FIFA and NBA Live to UFC and Fight Night Champion, you’ve worked on a lot of music for various sports game franchises in particular. What makes scoring for this specific genre unique from more narrative-based titles?

You have to be able to turn it up hard on people. Sports games are iterated upon, often every year. As this happens, the trends in music culture also shift, and you have to be adept at nailing those sensibilities. A lot of narrative-based titles tend to have that orchestral underscore and ambient music and things like that. They draw more from the classical cinematic score. Sports games, on the other hand, focus on keeping people’s energy up as high as possible without getting annoying.

I really enjoy sports games due to the fact that they’re usually plugged into very specific cultures of players. This is largely due to the fact that almost every year they release a new version, so the creative direction for the music is quite dialed in. For UFC and Fight Night, I ended up creating these anthemic orchestral / hip hop crossovers that are super fun to make, and work really well in the context of the games.

On the other hand, NBA Live was more focused on creating music that reflects various snapshots in hip hop culture, so you won’t really hear things like orchestral strings as much.

Usually, with sports titles I have one question that I always ask myself: “If I were in the gym, would I work out to this?” If the answer is yes, then I’m on the right path. Music for some narrative-based titles also call for this approach, such as the 27 tracks I produced for Cyberpunk 2077, but there is definitely a noticeable difference in styles between scoring sports genres and other styles of games.

How working on video game music can shape your artist projects

How have your experiences in video game music influenced your work on solo and artist projects, and vice versa?

They have made me more chill about feedback and helped me understand the nature of working with teams much better. It’s a lot easier for me to work with labels, bigger artists who have multiple rounds of revisions, and people who are putting up money on projects, having some sort of control over the song.

Also, I tend to learn a new technique on every game I work on. Usually, games are focused on innovation, so the music has to be more cutting edge than whatever’s happening online or on the radio at the time. One of the major challenges (and my favorite things) with games has been the fact that you’re working on something that won’t usually be public for at least a year. So, that means that you have to have your ear on trends, and you need to time things well. This skill helps a ton when working on artist projects because it keeps you focused on what’s upcoming, so you can time your music releases better – and your music is overall just cooler.

Expanding on that, does your creative process change when switching contexts between scoring for media and producing for your own projects?

Big time. First off, I don’t have nearly as many people to please, and I don’t need to wait on as many replies. So, I get to be more prolific with my output. Also, the mix of the music is oftentimes affected by the type of sound effects for a game, in addition to the presence of any voiceovers and considerations for general consumer audio playback environments (such as TVs for games, as opposed to cars, headphones, and laptops for regular music consumption).

I mix my own stuff and I like to mix as I go, so I find that when I’m working on games, I worry about quite a few different things. There’s definitely a feel that I make sure my music has in video games. Things tend to be much more compressed, certain nuances are brought to the front, etc. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about many of these things on a personal project.

Looking towards the future

You most recently composed “We Got The Spin,” the theme song for Beyblade Burst Surge. Did you experience any parallels between writing for anime and video games?

Yes – the iterative / approval process is pretty much identical. You have a client with a team, and that team has a vision. You need to be cool with letting a lot of parts of your original song go, adjusting things, and sticking to timelines. Energy is also a big one. The Beyblade track is the first thing that consumers will hear when they tune in, so I want to make sure to hit them with the Konrad OldMoney hype sauce as soon as possible.

This tends to be the same in video games. You fire up your game and you’re brought into the world immediately. Since most sports are hype, it’s like this beautiful slap in the face when you turn on your console and tune in – a completely transformative experience. One of my favorite feelings ever is the transition from being outside of a venue to walking into an entire world of energy. It’s like stepping into a whole different universe, and it’s such a beautiful thing. So many people experience it but don’t stop to think about it. I like to keep this in mind when creating music for multimedia.

With this medium now under your belt alongside video games, film, commercials, documentaries, etc., what’s next for you?

My mission has always been simple: bring the sauce to the world of multimedia audio. I’m working on some projects which will break a lot of conventions in the world of scoring and composing. The future of composing looks much different than what we have been exposed to for the past few decades, and I am doing everything in my power to speed this process along and pioneer a new era of music composition in mainstream media.

I also have a lo-fi hip hop project, Single Friend, which I put out every Friday into oblivion. I do the music as well as the artwork for every release. Also, I have just started a 24/7 lo-fi livestream, which is actually generated in real-time in a CG space and streamed to my YouTube channel. And lastly, the obvious – more games, more movies, more commercials, and artist projects. Last year I published over 250 songs, and I don’t intend to slow down.

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share around breaking into the world of video game scoring that you couldn’t touch on above?

Be bold and never be too precious with your content. Too many amazing producers let their music die in their laptops. If you want to be relevant in such a competitive space, you have to be prolific. It is not enough to just reach out with some emails and expect people to give you a shot. You have to give them a reason to take the gamble and hire you. I find great success in pitches that include some sort of a draft of an idea already in there. It shows initiative, and this goes a long way.

There are also agencies that represent composers as well, and you can give that a try, but that isn’t how I got my start. I got my start through organic networking, making demos, and not worrying if they’ll be rejected. It’s important for you to focus on what’s special about your work, and to let that shine – this is a game of perseverance and patience as well as fierce competition.

March 11, 2021

Harrison Shimazu

Harrison Shimazu is a composer, content strategist, and writer who’s passionate about democratizing music creation and education. He leads the Splice blog and produces vocaloid music as Namaboku.